Around the World in Eighty Days
by Jules Verne (Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours, 1873)
translated from the French in 1873 by George Makepeace Towle (1873)
Sterling (2008)
224 pp

My wife and I are firm believers that reading to children is fundamental to their development. Plus, it is time well spent together. We have always made sure to read plenty to our two sons, and I’m proud to say their favorite place to go is the bookstore. We read flap books, touchy-feely books, picture books, classic children’s books, fairy tales, train tales, etc. But we also see no reason to avoid reading books we know they won’t follow yet, books with few to no pictures, books with long narratives. We just want to get ourselves — and them — into the habit of reading plenty together. And it’s surprising how much they tend to take in.

There are several books I never read as a child that I’ve thought I should have, and I’ve always been excited at the prospect of reading them with my own children. One of those was Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.

Besides the chance of reading to my children and the opportunity to bask in some nostalgia, there’s another reason I wanted to read this book. Jules Verne’s books are highly influential. Many great books written in the subsequent years contain allusions or homages to his work. I felt it was important to my literary growth to go to the source to understand all of the allusions that come from subsequent books.

In Around the World in Eighty Days we have Phileas Fogg, the hero, and his assistant Passepartout. One is the reclusive yet staunchly disciplined rich man whose strict daily routine and relative frugality has helped him amass and keep a great fortune while accumulating a wealth of knowledge. His assistant is loyal to this noble type. So long as Fogg lives up to his ideal, Passapartout will serve him to the end. As long as Passapartout serves him, Fogg will grant him his respect and perhaps allow the servant to rise to the rank of friend. It’s simplistic, really, and though there are moments when the narrative suggests one of the characters may be less than what he seems, we readers never really doubt that both characters will live up to the ideal character the narrative proposes, despite the trials of circumnavigating the globe to win a bet or lose it all.

Before reading the book, I had full plans to get on here and write a review of Around the World in Eighty Days. However, when we finished it, I didn’t have anything to say. The book was fun but the things I usually look for, like strong character development or subtle narrative, just weren’t there. I couldn’t even think of any passages to quote — still can’t, you can see. I felt that the book was becoming more and more of a piece of history, something that shows us an exotic time when technology was allowing for more and more people to “discover” the world. I love that time period, by the way, and I like that sense of going into the unknown. It’s just that the book didn’t have much else to offer me. I’m not even sure in this age of television whether children will latch onto it as once was the case. I hope so, but that’s more for my own sense of nostalgia than for any sense of loyalty to the book.

So I decided that a review would be a waste of time. The book has lasted over 125 years, so what could I add? And I really didn’t want to detract.

Well, I still can’t really add anything myself, but the other day I saw how these books had inspired artist Jim Tierney. Over the last week I’ve seen several blogs feature his Jules Verne book covers, and I’m sure many of you have seen this elsewhere. But just in case! Because you don’t want to miss this!

What Tierney has created gave me all the feelings I’d hoped the books would — in an instant! Unfortunately for all of us book collectors, this really is just an exhibit of four fantastic books designed and produced for a senior project in the illustration department at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. I have no idea what the logistics are, but if a publisher produced these I’d have a very difficult time not buying them for me and for many people I love — whatever the cost (well, not entirely true, but I’d go pretty high). My wife and I are spending a lot of time reading to our children, hoping to instill in them a desire to read — but what could do that better than having these beautifully designed books, born from the passion we are trying to instill in our children, at their fingertips?

The feelings behind this exhibit are exactly the kind of feelings that I think these books inspire, particularly in youth. The discipline, the taste of adventure and discovery, the invigorating but rather tame sense of danger, the good fun of it all — these elegant yet whimsical book covers are, I believe, perfect. They make me want to read all of these books, to just enjoy the adventure and feel like a kid discovering a dreamy version of the world. I suggest you click here to read about the project and see how the concept developed.

There is so much to these covers that you should not miss going here to see the the artist’s webpage where there are many more views of each of the four books, descriptions of the concept behind each design, and a short video displaying the interactive features. Each book has a unique dust cover that works with the hard cover, so take a look — and if you can afford to commission a whole issuance of these beauties, let me get in the buyers’ line.

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